Professor and Student Explore Political and Personal Sides of Syrian Crisis

Often we use the expression “out of sight, out of mind” to provide a sense of comfort for the things that can be heartbreaking or troublesome for us. Unfortunately, this has become a rule of thumb in regard to the crisis in Syria, as the war-torn nation trudges on. Although the conflict continues in a nation miles away, the crisis still affects many people in the United States. Matthew Aboukhater, senator in the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) and MCAS ’20, and Peter Krause, a professor in the political science department and a leading researcher on terrorism, have both discussed the reality many Syrians face and the effects of U.S. intervention in Syria.

Aboukhater and his twin sister Jude, MCAS ’20, moved to Canton, Mass., from Aleppo, Syria by themselves when they were only 16. Their older sister Layla, MCAS ‘18, who told her story in The Heights last year, moved here with their father five months before Matthew and Jude. They chose to come to Massachusetts because their father, a graduate of Tufts University, knew people who could help get them settled. Their mother moved six months after the rest of her family on a work visa.

Aboukhater explained the trouble they had getting into a high school at the time, mainly because the nurse’s department didn’t know if they had any health issues. After they had finally been accepted, it was just like any other kid’s high school experience.

“Although we didn’t really fit in because everyone was already friends and people sensed that we weren’t from there so the school wasn’t that accepting,” Aboukhater said.

Aboukhater explained some of the horrors he and his friends would witness routinely throughout their childhood in one of the world’s most dangerous U.S. cities.

“It started around 2011,” Aboukhater said. “That’s when the crisis really hit Aleppo. We started sensing changes in the way we lived.”

Clean water was hard to come by, finding food at different markets was difficult, and they struggled with a lack of electricity. The combination of malnutrition and bombings would often seem to be too much to handle.

“You’d just be walking down the street and people would get shot,” Aboukhater said. “You’d be walking in one neighborhood with your friends and then a nearby neighborhood would get bombed and after a brief moment of shock, you just keep walking because life goes on.”

Krause, who authored the upcoming book Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight, and Win, discussed some of the ways the U.S. has intervened in the Syrian crisis. Krause explained that the most common we’ve seen are U.S. airstrikes against ISIS or the enemies of the rebels. There is often a lot of controversy as to how much the U.S. should intervene in a country that is not of immediate interest to the U.S.

“The Obama Administration feels that this is a humanitarian crisis but also says that the country is not a core U.S. interest, so they’ve mostly stayed out of it,” Krause said. “However, they’ve done other things to prevent it from worsening. It’s a case where you can say overall, the U.S. has stayed out. But it’s not a place where the U.S. has had zero intervention.”

Throughout history, the U.S. has been criticized for acting like the “police of the world.” Krause noted the U.S. as being “forward deployed” in places like Germany and Japan where we’ve stationed troops since World War II. According to Krause, many people believe that the U.S. could pull back in regard to some of their military bases spread throughout the world and still be safe given the country’s advantageous location and allies. Krause also acknowledged the moral argument against the U.S. pulling back.

There have been over 400,000 deaths in Syria, many of them civilians. It’s a fact that is very difficult to ignore, even if it is not in the country’s own self-interests.

“The deadliest wars in U.S. history are the Civil War and World War II and we’re approaching those same numbers in a country that is about a tenth of the size of the U.S., population-wise,” Krause said. “It’s a humanitarian disaster.”

Photo Courtesy of Gary Gilbert